Robert M. Utley

As Published in the Arizona Republic, June 14, 2022

It is with deep sadness we announce that Robert M. Utley, 92, distinguished author and historian, gently passed away on June 7, 2022, in Scottsdale, AZ.

                    picture of Bob in suit & tie, black & whiteHis interest in the West and military history was initially sparked by a fascination with George Armstrong Custer at the age of 12, when he watched Errol Flynn portray the general in the movie They Died with Their Boots On. He spent six summers during college years as a park interpreter at Custer Battlefield National Monument, which steered him into western history. After getting his bachelor’s degree from Purdue and masters from Indiana University, Bob started a career that bridged his dual love of military history and National Parks into a highly illustrious career as a historian of western history.   He joined the Army in 1952 graduating with honors from Officers Candidate School where he became a tactical officer then was assigned as historian in the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, where he left the Army as a captain and continued to serve as a civilian. He shifted his career as historian to the National Park Service as Regional Historian of the Southwest Region in Santa Fe for 7 years, where he played a key role in the development of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Bob essentially had two simultaneous and very different careers: Five days a week he was proud to be a Washington bureaucrat—his definition was that a good bureaucrat makes good things happen and prevents bad things from happening. Then on evenings and weekends he researched and wrote history of the American West.

1980 was a momentous shift in Bob’s life. He married his 2nd wife, Melody Webb, who became his lifetime partner, best friend, and professional colleague for the next 43 years. Bob retired in the same year and turned full time to historical research, writing, consulting, and speaking. His love of National Parks and traveling made the next 16 years of following Melody’s blossoming career in the National Parks a pleasure, as they moved from Santa Fe to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in the Texas hill country, then in 1992 to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Bob enjoyed cooking, and despite his disciplined regimen of researching and writing, referred to himself as Melody’s househusband. At his insistence, he and Melody visited every state in the union together and often included travel with Melody’s family or visiting friends all around the country, often to awards ceremonies or appearing as an on-camera commentator for television productions on PBS, the History Channel, and A&E, among others. After Melody’s retirement they moved to Georgetown, TX, where Bob served on the board of directors of Eastern National Park and Monument Association, twice as chairman. In 2007 they moved to Phoenix to be near Melody’s family, where Bob continued to write and travel. When traveling became difficult because of declining health Bob found he loved Regent cruises. Melody and Bob took a cross-Atlantic cruise, just a few months ago and Bob gleefully stated they were already planning their next one.

Bob spent hours each day researching his current book, typed all his notes, organized them so everyone could find them, and was still using them the week before he died. He kept a professional journal initially in books then on the computer for hundreds of pages. In addition, he chronicled his marriage and extensive travels through 19 volumes of photographs, well captioned and dated.  Bob worked with a friend to develop a professional website, currently up to date with his personally written obituary. Fans of his books wrote him via his website, and he personally responded to every submission. Bob was very generous with his time in helping fledgling writers.

This discipline resulted in Bob’s extraordinary success as a historian and author. He wrote 23 books, including Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life, Sitting Bull: The Life and Times of an American Patriot, Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers, and Geronimo.  He won multiple national awards including, 4 Wranglers from National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum; 4 Spur Awards from Western Writers of America; the Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement from Western Writers of America; and was inducted a Member of Western Writers of America’s Hall of Fame. One award he took great pride in receiving was the Society of Military History’s Samuel Eliot Morison Award.  He was granted 3 Honorary Doctorates from Purdue University, Indiana University, and University of New Mexico.

Bob died on June 7, 2022, at age 92, in Scottsdale, Arizona, following complications from a simple surgery; memorial arrangements to be announced. He is survived by his beloved wife Melody Webb; two sons, Donald Warner Utley and Philip Lee Utley; loving extended family; as well as protegees and fans across the nation. He was working on his 24th book.

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